Robustness vs. Sensitivity: A Quick Comics Thought

Suppose you were a farmer, with an ordinary crop of wheat in your fields.

Suppose someone offered you a crop of super-wheat — hugely inflated yields, pest-resistant, the stuff practically harvests itself…

But every single plant was the clone of a single superplant.

Would you be cool with that?

I have recently gotten the notion that today’s comics buyer (me included) is a superclone like this.  Have some money now;  don’t mind buying a big-ass GN collection that costs a million bucks or something, if I want it…

But as a clone, if a disease comes along that can wipe out the parent, it’s a lock that I’ll fall before that exact same disease too.

I mean…

I’m the type of guy who might buy a big fat super-expensive repackaging of an old comic that hasn’t seen print in a number of years.  I might spend like a hundred bucks on it, hundred and fifty.  I might even do that every couple of months.

But, what if something happens to me?

It might happen to everybody else who’s like me, too.

Just a thought.

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3 responses to “Robustness vs. Sensitivity: A Quick Comics Thought

  1. Welcome to the Big Two’s nightmare.

    They’ve taken a couple of half-assed (or, really, quarter-assed) steps to reach newer, younger, different readers over the last few years: Marvel’s thin distribution at some Seven-Elevens; tentative forays into digital comics; some Wal-Mart distribution. They know that “diversifying the crop” is the key to long-term survival. But pandering to the supercrop is just so goddamn profitable and easy.

    Widespread distribution to expand readership and penetrate new markets is expensive and risky. Pandering harder and harder to the panting faithful is cheap and effective. It’s hardly surprising the situation has played out as it has.

    It’s like dieting and exercise. You know you should, but if you’re set in your lazy, slobby ways, it’s so much damn effort to go to the store, pick out some good vegetables, and cook them properly, and go back to the store in a few days to get more fresh produce, when you could just get some frozen burritos that’ll last weeks and order the occasional pizza. (I have a layman’s understanding of publishing, but a strong first-hand understanding of sloth.)

    I’ve wondered for some time how much the Big Two care about it, at least at the upper echelons. Aren’t both just intellectual property holders with publishing wings at this point? The survival of comics would be great for them, sure, but seeing as how the money is in merchandising and multimedia, how much is it worth to them to preserve the original format? The cartoons and toys and movies sell very well to bazillions of kids who have never and will never read a Marvel or DC comic. Why make more than a token effort?

    I do wonder sometimes.

  2. On the other hand, once upon a time Venom made them a lot of money, and they didn’t have to fork over too much cash in exchange for him.

    The publishing wings are where the brands get cycled; I don’t think you can just maintain ’em and that’s it…even McDonald’s puts out new burgers now and then. Seems to me that the whole merchandising charge is based on this tiny bit of creative surplus trickling in, year in year out. A new villain. A new hero. A new costume. Stuff like that. Little things, but apparently quite easy to get wrong if you mistake the business you’re in for some other business. From a distance, it appears as though Spider-Man cartoons and movies may go and come, but there’ll always be an Amazing, the creators of which will always get a comparative pittance…that’s still the one-and-only Spider-Man playbook, the home of the trademark and the copyright: the source material, and it’s dirt cheap to make. But if they ever had to stop making it, how long would the lunchboxes and the video games keep selling for? That’s the question I ponder, too. How important is the Spider-Man monthly really?

    Truthfully, I haven’t got a clue. But I do know that many businesspeople, though they don’t talk about it so much anymore, still find the matter of “content” rather perplexing. You and I may think Venom could just as easily be invented in the boardroom, but the truth is most of those people couldn’t invent Mysterio. And Venom’s the Big Boss in the Spider-Man game, so…

    I still don’t know.

  3. From what little I know about copyright law, I think they do have to maintain the copyrights and trademarks for the comics by actually publishing the comics. Clearly, though, there’s a strong element of nostalgia and “mythology maintenance” on the parts of both fans and pros who read and/or work on the superheroes.

    In turn, the current generations of fans and pros can evangelize to the younger ones — but it seems to me that the Big Two are counting on that kind of evangelism to keep creating new consumers. I don’t want to call it a cult, or a Ponzi scheme, because the companies reach out through the other-media incarnations. Still, when was the last time you heard a mainstream-media entertainment-reporter type draw comparisons between movie and comics versions? Everyone who at least has a cursory acquaintance with superhero comics goes into those superhero movies knowing generally where the differences lie; but it doesn’t go the other way.

    It applies to books and plays too, of course; but in those cases there’s only one book, one play, etc. — and those things are single units. They’ve already happened. Superhero comics are ongoing, and there’s precious little effort made to remind the General Public of that fact.

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